Most of America's pro athletes are aerobic pipsqueaks compared to cross-country skiers, who have a resting heart rate of about 30 beats per minute, making them some of the best-conditioned athletes on the planet. What's more, their sport is an offshoot of their day-to-day lifestyle -- ski to school, ski to work -- much as distance running is for the Kenyans or Ethiopians. And for those tracking the medal count, cross-country skiing offers as many chances to win gold (12) as any discipline at the Games. Think few care? When Lillehammer held the 50-kilmeter event at the 1994 Games, a quarter million spectators showed up, some with tickets, others littered along the course or even up in the trees. That was in a country of four million people. Using the one-in-16 ratio, that would equate to roughly 20 million Americans attending the same sporting event.
Think cross-country skiing is a peaceful, boring sport? Keep an eye on Norway's
U.S. cross-country athletes may not medal this time around, but
To date, 72 Olympic gold medals have been awarded for men's cross-country skiing events. All but four have gone to the Norwegians, Russians/Soviets and Finns. Perhaps no other sport in the winter or summer Games has been so thoroughly dominated, for so long, by so few nations.
The world's top female skiers come from a much more diverse group of nations than do the men. Consider that the top five world cup leaders all come from different countries: